Running a marathon with Sussex Life's Clive
PUBLISHED: 13:18 16 July 2013 | UPDATED: 13:18 16 July 2013
After months of preparation, Clive joins elite athletes and amateur runners for a race he's fairly confident of winning
The young lady in the new William Hill shop in Battle High Street laughed, which I thought was rather unprofessional. Having cleared it with head office, I was simply having a modest £1 each way on me winning the Brighton Marathon. The odds of 20,000-1 were, I thought, a touch cramped, which, coincidentally, is how I’m probably going to be at the end of 26 miles and 385 yards. If I win, the £20,000+ will go some way to easing the pain.
Reluctant though I am to countenance the possibility of defeat, even if I’m beaten, my charity (Winston’s Wish) will, thanks to the generosity of friends, family and you, dear readers, benefit to the tune of £1,500.
Not leaving anything to chance, I take my wife/trainer with me to Brighton on the day before the race and, believing I deserve a bit of comfort to balance out the predicted pain, we check in to the very lovely Hotel du Vin before heading to the race exhibition to register and check out likely rivals.
Although I may be wrong, I believe my three digit number (554) is significant and has considerable prestige attached to it. With a field of approximately 10,000, most runners are going to have four-digit numbers. Since the truly elite international athletes are assigned one and two-digit numbers, I evidently belong somewhere between the two. Because I have little known form, the organisers have understandably been cautious and opted for a safe compromise as it wouldn’t look good in the photos if a four-figure number breasted the tape. Three figures looks much better.
Behind the impressive figure is a less impressive colour. I can’t blame anyone other than myself for the fact that mine is pink. An innately modest man, asked to predict a likely time, instead of two hours six minutes or thereabouts, I said somewhere between four-and-a-half and five hours. I did so because I feared my odds with William Hill would tumble if the word got out that I was making a concerted effort to break the world record.
The red numbers are aiming below four hours, the blues better than four-and-a-half and the greens don’t expect to break five. After six hours the roads are scheduled to open and the ignominious prospect of being run over has to be factored in.
Having signed in and collected a bag with my number on, into which I presume they will shove any body parts that might drop off during the course of the race, I wander around the exhibition. Rapidly disabused of my previously held naïve belief that the great appeal of running is its sheer simplicity, I begin to appreciate there’s a good deal more to it than simply putting one foot in front of the other.
More into food than fashion, I’m less interested in the figure-hugging gear than I am the bewildering range of nutritional bars, gels and potions guaranteed to give you that vital competitive edge. As they will dramatically enhance my chances of picking up a fat cheque from William Hill, I invest a few quid in sachets of IsoGel Plus. The recommended dose is one every half hour, so four should be enough. But just in case I hit a snag or the ‘wall’, I buy sufficient to last me five hours and a gel belt to go around the waist to store them in. Despite the pink number and noticeable absence of spindly legs, hollow cheeks and wiry frame, such a serious accessory will surely mark me out as a genuine contender.
Further confirmation of my single-minded determination is exhibited in the Pub du Vin in the evening when, ignoring a wide range of quality ales, I elect to wash down my high-in-carbohydrate, pre-race dinner with tap water.
Water remains a major issue the next morning. Everyone stresses how important it is to be hydrated but the downside to gulping down gallons before the race is having to use one of the few toilets dotted around the course during it. Can you name an athlete who stopped for a ‘comfort break’ and went on to capture Olympic gold?
After breakfast, my wife/coach Rose accompanies me to the start at Preston Park. Despite the negative impact on my confidence, she insists on filling in the next of kin details on the back of my number before allowing me to take my place among my fellow pinks.
Anxious to conserve energy, I avoid conversation but instead focus on the task ahead and visualise crossing the line first. This clear mental picture of me winning becomes rather blurred when the elite athletes, who have started further back up the London Road, fizz past while I’m stuck here. Never mind, I gobble down an IsoGel Plus which should help me close the gap on the leaders when I eventually start.
A huge cheer goes up at the front of the massed ranks of runners and I assume we’re underway. It takes me about ten minutes to reach the start, which turns out to be enough time to encounter my first crisis. My Garmin watch, upon which I rely to provide all the information on distance covered, total time, average speed, etc. flashes up a ‘low battery’ warning. So preoccupied have I been with my own energy levels that I had forgotten to charge the watch. Curses!
We leave the park, turn left and head up a modest hill. I pass three runners, two of whom are already walking, before we turn left and head into town. The first mile marker elicits a cheer and a bloke running alongside says, “It can’t be much further, can it?”
We go through downtown Brighton and, just before turning east along the coast road, catch sight of the elite athletes heading west. They’re nearly halfway while we’ve only done about five miles. I don’t panic because I’m still feeling pretty good and have plenty of IsoGel Plusses left to fuel a sprint finish.
It’s uphill most of the way on the coast road towards Roedean but the lovely view over the Channel compensates for the extra effort. We take a left to Ovingdean before turning back on ourselves. Horrible though it might sound, there’s undoubted if unworthy pleasure to be had from looking at runners coming the other way who have even further to go than you. As if to punish me for this unkind schadenfreude my watch battery dies leaving me flying blind.
At last we turn and head downhill towards Brighton. Although the speed cameras strike me as a sick joke, I’m happy with my form and even happier I don’t need to use the toilet.
The crowds swell as we pass the pier and the atmosphere is truly inspiring. People are shouting encouragement, offering sweets and raising our collective spirit. And the bands are stirring. Sadly, the number of casualties rises as the miles pass and more and more runners are lying prone on the pavement stretching leg muscles.
After about 16 miles as we’re hobbling through Hove, I can almost hear my calf and thigh muscles screaming at me to stop. Cramp would not only kill any residual chance I have of winning but would also render simply finishing a tough task. And so I drop down a gear to something just short of first.
As we head back along the coast and past Portslade, all casual conversation dries up. Now it’s beginning to really hurt and not even an IsoGel Plus can ease the pain. After what seems an age, we turn one final time and head along what is in effect a four-and-a-half mile finishing straight. Even though I now grudgingly concede I won’t win, I am at least pretty confident of completing the course.
With less than a mile to go my famous sprint finish finally kicks in and the even more famous Brighton landmarks flash past in a blur. There’s the finish. I throw my arms aloft in triumph because this is the nearest I’m ever going to get to winning.
Clive ended up 6045th out of 9067 finishers in a time of 4hrs 44mins 33secs. Despite his pleas that such a high position constituted a place, William Hill declined to pay out. If you feel his performance deserves a reward and would like to support his effort to raise money for Winston’s Wish, which counsels bereaved children, please go to www.justgiving.com/CliveAgran.